Archive for the ‘older adult’ Category

Too much marketing and not enough meat

May 8, 2008

A message to the SeniorServ list from Allan Kleiman alerted me to BigScreenLive. Since I’m always interested in what’s available for older adults, especially the ones with limited computer experience, I had to instantly check it out. Now, the upfront disclaimer here is that I haven’t actually tried it out yet, but I do see a few problems right off the bat.

The first problem, which instantly affects their credibility with me, is when they state, right on the front page:

Our goal is to make computing effortless and enjoyable. While our software runs on any PC, we also recommend hardware to make it easier.

but on the Software and Hardware page, they state,

To get started, you will need:

  • Access to a computer with Microsoft Windows XP or Vista. [emphasis mine]
  • A monitor resolution of at least 1280 x 800. The experience is optimized for a resolution of 1280 x 1024, which is most 17 inch or larger monitors.
  • A high-speed internet connection.

People are aware today (yes, even the Seniors) that PC does not necessarily mean a Windows machine. Let’s have a little truth in advertising here, please.

But even larger problems loom. Who, exactly, is the site for? Children of older adults? Retirement communities? Older adults themselves? Older adults themselves range from very computer savvy to totally clueless (and generally content to stay that way). The computer savvy ones, of course, wouldn’t even look at the site; neither would the totally clueless. That still leaves a wide range of computer users, some who are already doing the things BigScreenLive wants to introduce them to, some that are struggling to learn even the basics just to be able to do the things on BigScreenLive, and some who are frustrated by the very things BigScreenLive offers to help with.

I suspect the target audience is children of older adults: the ones who call me about signing up their parent(s) for computer classes. For this group, the site looks the most inviting and promising, because this is a group that is already fairly comfortable on computers, and that wants their parents online also, but without the frustrating computer problems older novices face. The marketing makes it look like the perfect solution. Will its marketing be successful? Probably so, with enough money. I keep thinking of how many people continue to use AOL.

Whether it is a good product is another question, however. From looking through the site, and watching its tutorial, it is evident that older novices would need training just to use the program (for example, they have to know how to enlarge the text themselves). The e-mail program, while fairly basic, will definitely be confusing to novices. It boasts “Easily upload digital photos to the Family Album” (emphasis theirs). Easy, maybe, for the adult children, but not for the older novice, without some training (which is the whole problem to begin with). I think the product would be really useful for about 2% of Seniors wanting to use the computer. But I think far more will be “given” a subscription, with little hope of actually using it.

Excellent training guide

November 27, 2007

This comes from Karen Vargas, via the Seniorserv discussion list. The National Institute on Aging has created a Toolkit for Trainers, with guides and curriculum for use in training seniors in Web skills and finding health information. From the press release:

Trainers who download the toolkit at <www.nihseniorhealth.gov/toolkit> will receive a set of materials they can customize to their students’ skill levels and interests. These include lesson plans, student handouts, Web searching exercises and illustrated glossaries. An introductory video gives a quick overview of the curriculum and a glimpse of Internet classes in action. Tips on how to set up a senior-friendly computer classroom also are provided

I have only glanced at the class materials. What really caught my eye was the “Quick Tips for a Senior Friendly Computer Classroom,” under “Training Tips” near the bottom of the page. It is a nicely done PDF with a very organized way of looking at training seniors. There are several suggestions I had not thought of before (or hadn’t thought seriously about), such as asking the students if they are comfortable being addressed by their first name, and providing space on handouts for students to take notes. I can attest that the rest of the suggested tactics work well (full disclosure: one of my articles is cited in the bibliography).

There are only a couple suggestions I would take issue with. The first is the suggestion to keep class length to around 90 minutes or less. My rule of thumb, from experience, is 60 minutes or less. The other suggestion is to have students work in pairs during hands-on activities. It sounds like a good idea and does work well some of the time. But on many occasions I have also seen pairing students become a detriment to one of the two students. This usually happens when one is significantly more advanced on the computer than the other, or when the two are married. In both cases, one will dominate and the other will passively allow the other to control the session, and learn nothing.

That said, this is a guide that should be in every trainer’s hands as they prepare for classes and training sessions with seniors. Definitely check out the materials.

Connecting the Disconnected: Tip #8

October 31, 2007

Nearly everyone who takes computer classes at our library does not want a book about how to use a computer. The typical response is, “I can’t learn by reading a book. I have to be shown how to do it.” There are many different learning styles. Some learn by watching. Some learn by listening. Some learn by taking notes. Some learn by doing and re-doing. All of us learn from mistakes.

Older adults, although they are more careful, in order to avoid making mistakes (one of the reasons they go more slowly), and despite their best efforts, will make mistakes while learning to use the computer. To those of us who grew up with computers or live with computers now, the mistakes can seem pretty incredible. More importantly, those newbie mistakes are usually easy to fix, so the typical response is to just fix it for them with one or two mouse clicks.

With very few exceptions, however, it is better to allow them to fix their mistakes by telling them what happened, why it happened, and walking them through, step by step, how to fix it. Although it takes longer, if they made the mistake once, they will probably do it again, so learning how to fix it themselves is important. It also helps take the mystery out of computers and raises their confidence level. Sometimes we even help them make a mistake, if it’s a common one, just to teach them how to fix it. For example, sooner or later they are all going to click the right mouse button and get a popup context menu. So, when training novices, we tell them to click the right mouse button, then explain what they are seeing and why, and how to close the popup menu.

Tip #8: Mistakes are learning opportunities. Teach them how to fix their mistakes.

Connecting the Disconnected: Tip #7

October 20, 2007

The older we get, the more we know. But sometimes that gets in the way of learning (see Tip #5). The process of learning, of itself, becomes more difficult due to factors in aging. Learning new concepts for familiar terms inserts a certain level of confusion into the process, enhanced by the declining ability to exclude the prior associations with those terms in order to learn the new associations. Frequently combined with this is a decline in hearing, caused by both physical and cognitive factors. The physical factor is the declining ability to hear sounds. The cognitive factor is the declining ability to distinguish sounds, caused by cognitive slowing and by neural noise (random signals that are unrelated to actual stimulus). This means what is actually getting through (what can be heard) is getting lost in distractions of prior associations and unrelated associations as the person attempts to “decode” it and make sense of it, causing increased difficulty in understanding what is being said. When this happens in the context of learning new terms and concepts, the ability to hear and understand becomes even more strained.

Rapid speech is obviously not going to work well with this group in a setting where they are learning something new. But slowing down the speed will not completely solve the problem. It is just as important to be very precise and explicit, and to enunciate clearly. Keep in mind many consonant sounds are similar. To older adults with hearing problems, words like com and con sound the same, and they may not have learned enough about the Internet to put “com” into context.

Because of the declines in hearing, context becomes even more important to older adults’ ability to decipher and understand speech. Precise and explicit speech will help keep them on track and in the correct context. For example, spelling out what is to be typed is a good idea, and to be more precise you could use phonetic alphabet words (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc.) to indicate the specific letters. But unless you explicitly say, for example, “type the letters C as in Charlie, O as in Oscar, M as in Mike…” some will just start typing the words you say.

Tip #7: To lessen the effects of hearing loss and related issues of aging, speak slowly, using language that is precise and explicit.

How to do that visual stuff in handouts (OpenOffice.org)

August 28, 2007

Here is an example of a handout created in OpenOffice.org Writer, using screenshots:

healthreshandout.jpg

The post on how to do this in MSWord is here. This particular post applies to OpenOffice.org 2.0 on Windows. Although most of the handouts on the ncrlab eSnips page were done in MSWord (a few are in WordPerfect), I actually use OpenOffice.org for handouts now instead of MSWord. It’s just more portable. It’s also easier in some ways (although there are a few minor gripes I have).

Since this is Windows, get screenshots using the Print Screen key and the Paint program, as described here. Once you have the images saved, open the OpenOffice.org Writer (select “Text Document” from the options). Click on the View menu, then go to the Toolbars submenu and click on the Drawing option to make the drawing toolbar available:

ooviewdrawtoolbar.jpg

The toolbar will be visible at the bottom of the page. To insert an image into the page, click on the button on the draw toolbar to insert an image from file.

ooinsertfromfile.jpg

Navigate through the dialog box to the picture you want to insert (in this case, the large one from the Print Screen exercise), and open it. Notice the Grahics toolbar that automatically appears docked at the top of the page. Right click on the image and click on “Picture” to get to the picture properties dialog window:

oortclickimage.jpg

It is not necessary to change the image wrap; the default works just fine. However, if you have problems shifting the image on the page, change the image wrap to “Optimal.” The best way to resize the image is to check the box to keep the image ratio then adjust the height or width by typing in the target size or using the arrows beside the boxes to adjust the size. With the “Keep ratio” box checked, the size will stay proportional as you increase one side (either height or width). This is also an easy way to make sure similar images are the same height or width.

ooimagekeepratio.jpg

Click the OK button to get back to the image. Now reposition the image by clicking inside the image and dragging it to where you want it on the page:

oomovepicture.jpg

You could also resize the image by clicking on one of the corners and dragging diagonally, but the aspect ratio will not be automatically preserved as it is when changing the size in the picture properties dialog window, so it may end up stretched in one direction or the other.

ooimageresize.jpg

Insert the smaller image using the same steps, arranging the two images on the page beside each other. Now add a box to the larger image. Click on the box shape button on the toolbar and select the rounded rectangle from the popup display.

oodrawboxmenu.jpg

Click and drag across the part of the larger image that was copied to create the smaller image. An opaque box will overlay the image:

ooopaquebox.jpg

Next, remove the fill by clicking on the “color” drop down menu in the graphics menu at the top of the page, and selecting “invisible.”

oochboxcolor.jpg

Now change the line width, and color (if desired), by clicking on the related drop down options on the graphics toolbar:

oochlinewidth.jpg

oochlinecolor.jpg

Do the same for the smaller image, creating a box around the whole image, and changing the line width and color to match the box on the larger image.

Now draw lines connecting the two boxes: Click on the line tool on the Drawing toolbar at the bottom.

oodrawline1.jpg

Now click on a corner of one of the boxes and drag the cursor to the corner of the other box, creating a line between them. Then change the line width and color, just as you did with the boxes.

oodrawline2.jpg

Create another line between the two opposite corners, adjusting the color and width as with the first line. The final effect should look something like this:

oodone.jpg

The boxes and lines can be moved by dragging when the cursor turns into a four-way arrow over them.  If the box is snapping to a grid rather than staying precisely where you move it, hold down the Alt key while dragging.  This will override any grid restrictions.